BEIJING – A cloned pig whose genes were altered to make it glow fluorescent green has passed on the trait to its young, a development that could lead to the future breeding of pigs for human transplant organs, a Chinese university reported.
Two of the 11 piglets glow fluorescent green from their snout, trotters, and tongue under ultraviolet light, according to Northeast Agricultural University, located in the city of Harbin.
Their mother was one of three pigs born with the trait in December 2006 after pig embryos were injected with fluorescent green protein.
"Continued development of this technology can be applied to ... the production of special pigs for the production of human organs for transplant," Liu Zhonghua, a professor overseeing the breeding program, said in a news release posted Tuesday on the university's Web site.
The birth of the glowing piglets proves such transgenic pigs are fertile and able to pass on their engineered traits to their offspring, Liu said.
"The smooth birth of these transgenic fluorescent green pigs testifies to the mature development of our country's use of somatic cell nuclear transfer technology to produce transgenic pigs," Liu said.
Calls to the university seeking comment Wednesday were not answered.
Robin Lovell-Badge, a genetics expert at Britain's National Institute for Medical Research, said the technology "to genetically manipulate pigs in this way would be very valuable."
Lovell-Badge had not seen the research from China's cloned pigs and could not comment on its credibility. He said, however, that organs from genetically altered pigs would potentially solve some of the problems of rejected organs in transplant operations.
He said the presence of the green protein would allow genetically modified cells to be tracked if they were transplanted into a human.
The fact that the pig's offspring also appeared to have the green genes would indicate that the genetic modification had successfully penetrated every cell, Lovell-Badge added.
But he said much more research and further trials — both in animals and in humans — would be necessary before we could see the benefits of the technology.
Other genetically modified pigs have been created before, including by Scotland's Roslin Institute, but few results have been published.
Tokyo's Meiji University last year successfully cloned a transgenic pig that carries the genes for human diabetes, while South Korean scientists cloned cats that glow red when exposed to ultraviolet rays — an achievement they said could help develop cures for human genetic diseases.